In the art of Samuel Bak, familiar objects fracture before our eyes, abandoning their traditional functions to become metaphors for a dissonant, broken world. Inhabitants of a surrealistic space, Bak’s candles are abused, damaged, melting, lifeless, and bathed in the somber afterglow of profound sorrow. The cylindrical candles morph into tree trunks, logs, chimneys, columns, missiles, and other projectiles, exposing the frequent disorder at the heart of the supposed orderly progression of history. An icon of memory becomes a ruse, where the flames of remembrance mingle with the drifting smoke of extermination. Amidst the anguish of his paintings, however, Bak allows for the notion that life can rise anew from the ashes.
In his enlightening essay, Lawrence L. Langer guides us through the ritual of remembering the Holocaust through Bak’s paintings, familiarizing the viewer with a past that may feel abstract to many of us. While Bak’s
paintings provide an entry point into the reality of the Shoah that our modern consciousness struggles to confront, Langer’s words explicate the historical, religious, and cultural narratives that inform the artwork.
Lawrence L. Langer is professor emeritus of English at Simmons College. His books include The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, Holocaust Testimonies and The Ruins of Memory, and Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology. He and his wife live in West Newton, MA.
Distributed for Pucker Art Publications
8.5 x 11, 136 pages, 120 color illustrations